Judge rips Trump’s “misuse of the courts” over Clinton lawsuit

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A federal judge in Florida’s southern district ordered nearly $1 million in sanctions against the attorneys who represented former President Donald Trump in his defamation lawsuit against Hillary Clinton.

Florida District Court Judge Donald Middlebrooks dismissed Trump’s suit in September, which alleged that Clinton—Trump’s former Democratic presidential opponent—accused him of colluding with Russia prior to the 2016 election.

On Thursday, Middlebrooks ordered nearly $938,000 in sanctions against Trump’s lead attorney in the case, Alina Habba, writing that the former president’s “legal theories were frivolous.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, left, and ex-President Donald Trump, right, listen during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016, in St Louis, Missouri. A judge on Thursday ordered nearly $1 million in sanctions against Trump’s attorneys over his lawsuit against Clinton.
Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images

Middlebrooks also said that Trump has had a “pattern of misusing the courts to serve political purposes,” referencing some recent lawsuits filed by the former president: against CNN in 2018 and 2022; against Twitter and its then-CEO Jack Dorsey in 2021; against New York Attorney General Letitia James in November 2022; and against the Pulitzer Prize Board in December 2022.

“To be clear, the sanction in this case is not imposed against Mr. Trump for the Pulitzer, Twitter, or CNN litigation,” Middlebrooks noted in his filing, adding that those three cases were currently before other judges.

Middlebrooks is also presiding over Trump’s lawsuit against James that was filed in Florida, although the judge said it’s “premature” to make a decision in that suit.

“However, this widespread and persistent conduct points to the need for deterrence in this case,” he added.

“This is purposeful conduct, some of which occurs beyond the pleadings and even outside of the courtroom.”

In his decision to dismiss Trump’s case in the fall, Middlebrooks wrote that the claims brought forward by the former president’s legal team were not “warranted under the law.” Habba told Newsweek in a statement at the time that her team “vehemently” disagreed with Middlebrooks’ opinion.

Trump’s legal team also filed an appeal of the decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in October.

Legal experts applauded the ordered sanctions over Twitter on Thursday, including Laurence Tribe, legal scholar and professor emeritus at Harvard Law School.

“A well-earned sanction,” Tribe tweeted. “As those who did Trump’s bidding in seeking to overturn a presidential election find themselves accountable, Trump might begin to wonder: When will his turn come?

“My best guess: Soon, dude, soon. Your time is coming,” he added.

Harry Litman, former attorney and current law professor at the University of Southern California, also flagged Middlebrooks’ opening statement in the sanction order in a tweet, in which the federal judge wrote, “This case should never have been brought.”

“When the opinion starts out this way, you’re in trouble,” Litman tweeted.

Trump’s legal strife has piled up within the past year, including: the Department of Justice investigation into the classified documents recovered from his Mar-a-Lago residence; a defamation lawsuit filed by writer E. Jean Carroll over Trump’s denial of sexually assaulting the former advice columnist; and a $250 million lawsuit from James, the New York attorney general, accusing him of inflating his company’s income to swindle insurers.

Newsweek has reached out to Trump’s press team for comment.

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